Hey guys, here's my (late) NHL 2017-2018 Western Conference preview! Let me know what you think in the comments!
Chicago Still a Top of the West?
The Chicago Blackhawks are aging, but relatively speaking still have some of the top players in the game today with a tenacious core of Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, & Seabrook. Patrick Kane will be without his former sidekick Artemi Panarin this season, as the Blackhawks rather shockingly dealt him to the Blue Jackets for Blackhawks draftee and two-time Cup winner Brandon Saad. The chemistry between Kane & Panarin will be difficult to replace, but Brandon Saad is obviously familiar with the Hawks and should be able to at least reproduce what he did last season (82GP 24G 29A 53P). The Hawks will need Anisimov, Bouma, Debrincat, Panik, and Sharp to have a good season for this team to win the central. If their secondary scoring falters, they’ll likely still contend for one of Wild Card spots.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are as solid as ever on the back-end but after that their blue line depth really tapers off. The loss of Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya & Trevor Van Riemsdyk leave a lot of holes & question marks. Hjalmarsson will easily be the toughest defenseman to replace this season and with the likes of Rozsival, Murphy, Kempny & Franson it simply wont be done. They do have youngsters Forsling and Snuggerud fighting to make the roster. I don't expect Chicago to be on top but I do expect them to make the playoffs.
Wild Winning Ways?
I've enjoyed watching this team over the last few seasons and see them grow into a contender. Mikael Granlund has shown he is ready for the spotlight in this hockey city. This team is filled with veteran presence with the likes of Staal, Stewart, Parise, Koivu, Ennis, Cullen, Quincey, Suter, and Spurgeon. Look for this team to continue to impress! Devin Dubnyk has asserted himself as a legitimate starting goalie. Not much to say about the Wild only that his team is scary on paper and will have a great year.
St. Louis will Need Tarasenko to Shine!
Vladimir Tarasenko put up a stat line of 82 GP, 39G 36A 75P last season. He’s a truly gifted scorer with perhaps the most lethal wrist shot in the entire league. I’ve seen it in person and could hardly believe it!
The Blues are starting the season off with some injuries. Robby Fabbri will miss the entire season. Steen, Stanford, Bouwmeester, and Berglund all will be missing to start as well.The Blues will need players to step up. They do have considerable depth. Stastny, Pietrangelo, Parayko, Schwartz, and Schenn could all be line to have excellent seasons. They also added a familiar face, as Vladmir Sobotka rejoined the Blues at the tail-end of last season, and will play a full campaign if he can stay healthy this off-season. Jake Allen is coming off of a decent regular season and unreal playoff run, but with the defense in front of him he should have little trouble putting up similar numbers as last season. Despite the injuries, this team should easily make the playoffs and be a legitimate contender this season.
Can Nashville Get Back in the Finals?
Looking at this Nashville roster, it’s hard not to think that this team has a real chance at hoisting Lord Stanley after a heartbreaking but phenomenal run last season. Up front, look for Ryan Johansen to have fire in his step, as his season was abruptly cut short last season due to emergency surgery in the postseason. He will need help from the supporting cast of Smith, Watson, Hartnell, Fiala, and Bonino. Viktor Arvidsson saw himself rise as a star in the league last season as he put up 61 points in 80 games. Look for him and Filip Forsberg (58 pts in 82 games) to put this team on their backs. Defensively, this team has no holes with all-stars Subban and Josi being the front-runners. Ekholm, Ellis, and Irwin just have to keep being consistent in their own end and produce when they can. With the new acquisition of Alexei Emelin, the Preds have added depth on an already talented blueline. In net the Predators have the great glove of Pekke Rinne who was stellar for most of last season including the playoffs and huge reason why Nashville had so much success.
Can Dallas Turn it Around
With Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal coming to town, this season looks bright for the Stars, but they will need their two all-stars Seguin and Benn to be the best duo in the league if they want to make the playoffs again. Keep your eyes on the young center Faksa as he continues to improve. Last season he put up 33 points in 80 games. He has the talent and potential to hover around 50 point this season.
25 year-old Swedish phenom John Klingberg leads a back-end that was bolstered this off-season with the acquisition of stay-at-home defenseman Mark Methot. Methot, for much of his time in Ottawa was Erik Karlsson’s d-partner and proved to be effective in a conservative stay-at-home role, while Karlsson flourished offensively in large part thanks to the freedom afforded by Methot. Expect a similar role for Methot, and as a result an increase in offensive contribution and production from Klingberg.
Goaltender Ben Bishop was another acquisition this off-season. For the better of a few seasons the Stars have rolled with a subpar platoon of Niemi & Lehtonen and net, and that just hasn’t worked out for them so they definitely have nothing to lose taking a chance on Bishop, who has proven himself in this league. It’s likely that Lehtonen will play around 30 games, while Bishop will probably play just over 50 if he can stay healthy this season. The Stars have plenty of firepower and it looks like they’ve finally insulated roster well enough to make 2 or 3 goals scored result in wins more often than last season. They should make the playoffs, but with their back-end still a step behind some of the elite teams in the West, it will would be hard to imagine they are able to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
Avalanche New Season New Goals!
The biggest surprise last season was how bad they ended up being but the bright side is they are young and hungry and I think they will be the team to turn things around. MacKinnon, Duchene, and Landeskog are their respective stars and will need them to be a lot better than last season and to play as well as people know they can. Jost is the biggest excitement for this team and I expect him to do big things for them. Yakupov paired with the right people can score, he has speed and just like the rest of his Colorado team they fly down the ice. If this team wants to succeed they will have to be one of the best at getting through the neutral zone. Defensively Johnson and Barrie will have their hands full but they are definitely good enough. Varlamov will have to be good with at least a .920 save percentage and his back up red light Bernier will have to remember how to stop a puck. The future for this team is bright but is this the year where it all goes up? They can't get any worse can they?
Anaheim Ducks to Win Pacific Again?
Last season we saw the Ducks have a ton of success at home, while on the road they struggled mightily (no pun intended) & they will have to be better on the road this season if they want to win the Pacific again. 29-8-4 at home, 17-15-9 on the road last season. The Ducks have the same core of players. Kesler, Perry, and Getzlaf will have to continue their elite production as the get older and avoid injuries while getting secondary production from Silfverberg, Rakell, Ritchie, and Cogliano. Montour was a big surprise last season. Look for him to be the piece that this team needs to solidify their back-end. Lindholm, Vatanen, Fowler, and Bieksa will eat up the bulk of minutes on the blueline, which means this team will be hard to score against (which is nothing new).
In net, the Ducks acquired veteran Ryan Miller in support of a solid starter in John Gibson. Expect this team to win the Pacific just as long as they play better on the road this season. They have the depth both offensively & defensively to get it done in the playoffs, but the Ducks have had what it takes to win the Cup almost every season for the past number of years and have found ways to lose. It will be a matter of whether they can execute when it matters most in late April, May & June.
Edmonton Going Deep
I already touched on McDavid, but this team is strong. Jesse Puljujarvi will be working hard all season in the AHL to add to this already talented roster. Leon Draisaitl is pretty good in his own right, although in the shadow of McDavid may be sometimes overlooked. It’s hard to overlook a guy who had the kind of postseason Draisaitl had last season though, and as he gets older, expect more and more fans and the media to recognize him as an elite talent. He put up 29G, 48A & 77P last season in 82 regular season games and then went on to put up 6G, 10A & 16P in 10 post-season games last year. He’s only 21 & McDavid is only 20. These two will provide Edmonton fans with a ton to be excited about for many many years. The Oilers got bonus production from Patrick Maroon last season, as he scored a career-high 27 goals. If he can put up those kind of numbers again, it would be surprising, but even if he can manage 20 goals that would be plenty. After a rollercoaster ride to start his career, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is finally figuring things out. He can be counted on for 40-50 points this season.
Nurse, Russell, Sekera, Gryba, Larsson, and Klefbom will be punishing other teams and should provide Cam Talbot with a fairly steady, reliable back-end. Talbot has showed everyone that he is a legit number 1 and is no longer meant to be any ones back up. Expect this team to make a push into the Western Conference Finals & perhaps even the Stanley Cup Final if the Oilers can manage to stay healthy and get the same level of production from their stars as last season.
What is San Jose Without Marleau?
Patrick Marleau spent 19 straight seasons with the San Jose Sharks before signing a 3 year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season. He is the team’s franchise leader in goals (508) and points (1082). The former captain of this team was an integral part of the franchise every season of his career until his departure, so the Sharks face the task of finding a new leader to lead them back into the playoffs.
That role will fall more heavily than ever on winger Joe Pavelski who has been the Shark’s official captain since the 2015-2016 season. Norris winner Brent Burn will have his work cut out for him to top a season in which he put up 29G, 47A & 76P in 82 games. Those kind of numbers are truly remarkable for a defenseman. Unfortunately for the Sharks, without the same level of production from Burns they will be hard-pressed to contend in a very competitive Pacific division. They do have Canadian Olympic gold-medal winning defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is a career +128, so there are definitely other talented players on the back-end, but none who can ignite an offense like Burns.
The Sharks are only two years removed from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, and although they lost to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, the team has made few improvements, while other teams in the West have gotten better. Jumbo Joe, Hansen, Pavelski, Ward, Couture, and Boedker make up a tested core of veteran forwards who have put up numbers in this league, but there is a lack of elite scoring on this team at the forward position, with the bulk of their forward core being in the back-end of their careers. If this team makes the playoffs, it will likely be in the final days of the season via one of the Wild Cards. I wouldn’t expect them to get past the first round of the playoffs, but with a plethora of veterans and plenty of playoff experience, if this team gets hot they can put a run together.
Is Calgary's Goaltending Finally Figured Out?
Newly acquired goaltender Mike Smith joins a Flames team that is primed with young talent. After falling short in the 2017 playoffs in rather disappointing fashion, the Flames look to avenge a season which saw them blow a sizable 3-0 lead in a playoff game against the Ducks. Losing that game eventually lead to their demise as it gave the Ducks a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. For this young Flames team, that had to be a maturing experience.
Over the last few seasons, Johnny Gaudreau has established himself as one of the most exciting players to watch. He posted 61 points in 72 games last season & he could eclipse that this season. His help up front will come from other young forwards Monahan, Bennett, Tkachuk, Hathaway and Lazar. Curtis Lazar is somewhat of a project, but if he can figure out his game the Flames could be rewarded nicely for rolling the dice on this talented but enigmatic forward.
After much anticipation, Travis Hamonic was finally moved this off-season & with the Flames already boasting an incredibly talented blueline, the addition of Hamonic should make this team tougher to score on. Hamilton, Brodie, and Giordano have really established themselves. Calgary should make the playoffs again this season, but how far they go beyond that will largely depend on whether they can get consistent scoring and goaltending.
Will the Kings Disappoint Once Again?
The Kings are highly talented everywhere on their roster but for some reason last year between injuries and just not playing up to expectations they fell short of the playoffs for the first time in awhile. Captain Kopitar will have to rally the troops and get them hyped up for the 2017-18 season. Carter, Brown, Toffoli, and Gaborik be joined by familiar face Mike Cammalleri. Doughty is considered one of the best in his position and will have to carry once again with Muzzin, Martinez, and Forbort helping him out.
Jonathan Quick was injured most of last season, but is only a few seasons removed from being considered one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. If Quick can find his game and the King’s defense remains one of the stingiest in the league, they could find themselves back in the playoffs. He will have Campbell and Kuemper fighting for the backup spot.
Can the Coyotes Find Their Howl?
These Coyotes are big and strong just the way the west is built, but they are really young so I'm not sure these guys are ready to take on the big dogs just yet. There is certainly some sun shining in the Arizona desert.
They have talented youth in Domi, Duclair, Crouse, Dvorak, Perlini, Cousins, and Chychrun. These young kids will need veteran leadership to mentor them and help them maturel. Look for Stepan, Richardson, Goligoski, and Hjalmarsson to help them out and provide the leadership they need.
Their goaltending is the biggest question mark. Domingue and Raanta will likely platoon for the better part of the season unless one of these two goalies establishes himself as the undisputed starter. The Coyotes will put up a good fight this season, but ultimately fall just short of the playoffs.
What’s up Vancouver?
Many Vancouver fans are already giving up on this season but don't dwell for too long as this squad isn't as bad as it seems. The new acquisitions of Burmistrov, Gagner, Vanek, Del Zotto, and Wiercioch could be the boost this team needs to climb out of the gutter. In net we will see them use Markstrom, Nilsson and Bachman. Markstrom has to play well if this team wants any chance of winning more games this season. Defensively we will see Wiercioch, Tanev, Juolevi, Edler, Del Zotto, Hutton, Biega and Gudbranson. For these guys to succeed, they will need help from their forward core. The Sedin twins front the names of the forwards once again and will have help from Virtanen, Horvat, Eriksson, Dorsett, and Baertsch. They will have to put up good numbers for this team to get out of last spot in the pacific. If we see the younger players and the role guys get more points this season we will see an increase in the win column for Vancouver, but ultimately this team will miss the playoffs and a passing of the torch will be upcoming.
What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas!
On paper this team looks just as good as many of the weaker teams in the league. This is probably one of the better expansion teams drafted. They will need goal scoring from James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault who had a breakout season last year with the Florida Panthers with 30 goals, 21 assists & 51 points in 75 games played. If he can replicate this production for the Golden Knights this team should at least be competitive and wont get run over every night. Karlsson, Haula, Bellemare, Eakin, Perron, and Smith will provide secondary scoring. On defense, expect to see them start with Theodore, Sbisa, Garrison, and Engelland while Reinhart, Schmitdt, Hunt and Merrill fight for the final spots.
Marc-Andre Fleury finds himself as the first starting goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights. The former first round first pick will have lots of pressure but be sure he will enjoy every second of it. Where do I see Vegas in the standings by the end of the year? I can't see them making the playoffs this year or next but if players like Vadim Shipachyov can put up numbers they could be very surprising. Like the rest of the hockey world, I’m pulling for Vegas and hoping they put a respectful inaugural season.